Can Ontario Make the Switch to Solar Power?

Can Ontario Make the Switch to Solar Power?

Sustainable energy, that form of energy which can meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future, is widely seen as being desirable. Not only is it briefly encouraged, a majority of people in many advanced economies, support the use of sustainable energy. A variety of sustainable energy sources have been embraced for commercial and domestic use, such as geothermal, hydropower, ocean, solar and wind sources. Not only are these energy sources easily accessible, the technology to utilize them has fallen to a point at which they are broadly competitive with fossil fuels.  

Yet, in the fight to reduce greenhouse emissions, many people neglect a very obvious energy source: rooftop solar power. To give an indication of the transformative effect rooftop solar power has, let’s take a look at a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) on the Rooftop Solar Technical Potential for Low-to-Moderate Income Households in the United States. The NREL found that of the 116.9 million residential buildings in America, 57%, or 67.2 million residential buildings, were suitable for rooftop solar power. If those residential buildings adopted rooftop solar power, they would be able to generate 1,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) of power, or 75% of residential consumption! 

Despite the benefits of rooftop solar power, Canada, as a whole, has only installed rooftop solar power units on 40,000 buildings. By contrast, the United Kingdom and Germany, both of whom receive less light on average than Canada, have installed 20 times that number. Not only is the quantity of installations low, the rate of installations is low as well. Even amidst the coronavirus pandemic and a national lockdown, Vietnam grew installations year-over-year by 2,435%, ending 2020 with over 100,000 rooftop solar power systems installed. That represents 300% more installations in one year than Canada has achieved in the last decade. 

The monster rise in installations in Vietnam was partly a consequence of revisions made to the existing feed-in tariff program. Feed-in tariffs are essentially incentives to shift to renewable energy. They work by paying energy producers for energy that they generate during the length of their contract with the utility provider. 

Ontario has had a feed-in tariff program of its own since 2009 and it made Ontario a leader in solar power generation. By the time the province ceased accepting new applicants in 2016, Ontario was home to the bulk of rooftop solar energy sources. 

The feed-in tariff program became obsolete as a result of the dramatic decline in the cost of installing solar. Over the last decade, the upfront costs have fallen by 90%. At this stage, helping people meet those upfront costs would likely have a better impact than paying for production.  Another useful thing that governments could do would be to explicitly point to the kind of rooftop solar solutions that suppliers like Smith’s Tree Removal provide, to send positive signals to people and help encourage their adoption. The current Trudeau climate change strategy does not mention rooftop solar power even though southern and eastern Ontario, southern Alberta and southern Saskatchewan are all ideal places for rooftop solar power given the amounts of sunlight that they receive. Rooftop solar power has incredible potential and this potential should be exploited.